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Union Pacific Mainline

Union Pacific
Mainline- Oregon Short Line/Oregon Railway & Navigation Company

A Union Pacific freight in the Blue Mountains. John Henderson photo, Jeff Moore collection.

The Oregon Portage Railroad laid down the first railroad in the state of Oregon. The company built a short stretch of track along the Columbia River at Cascade Rapids to transport river traffic around the obstacle. A small 0-4-0T type steam locomotive, named the Oregon Pony, became the first steam locomotive in service in the Northwest when it went into service on this short railroad in 1862. The same year saw the Oregon Portage Railroad purchased by the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, which set out to build another short portage railroad around Celilo Falls, just east of The Dalles, OR.

By 1879 the Oregon Steam Navigation Company was part of the vast northwest transportation empire controlled by Henry Villard. Villard merged the OSN with his Oregon Steamship Company to form the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company (OR&N). The OR&N had a short subsidiary railroad, the narrow gauge Walla Walla and Columbia River Railroad, which operated a few miles of track around Walla Walla, WA. One of the first acts of the OR&N was to extend the WW&CR rails westward to The Dalles, OR, both to supplement water transportation and to keep the westward building Northern Pacific Railroad from using this route to complete its line west to the Pacific Ocean.

The rails of the WW&CR and the Oregon Portage Railroad were converted to standard gauge and linked together by April 1881. Once the line to the east was completed, the OR&N next focused on building westward to the city of Portland. This stretch of the railroad required a lot of trestle and rock work, including a number of tunnels. A silver spike ceremony held on 4 October 1882 at Bonneville marked the completion of the through route from Portland to Walla Walla. By 1883 the Northern Pacific was using the OR&N to reach the ocean ports at Portland while it completed its own line across the Cascade Range at Stampede Pass. This arrangement lasted until around 1887.

In 1879 the Union Pacific struck an agreement with Villard to connect the rails of the OR&N with those of the Union Pacific transcontinental mainline at Granger, Wyoming. No concrete actions took place until 1881, when UP incorporated the Oregon Short Line. The OSL charter called for a line running from Granger, WY to Baker City, OR. Construction of the OSL westward and the OR&N eastward commenced shortly afterwards. However, relationships between the two companies deteriorated, and both companies laid out plans to build past each other. However, the two sides came to agreement in February 1883 to join their rails at Huntington, OR.

The OR&N reached Pendleton, OR on 31 August 1882 and Baker City, OR in August 1884. The last spike connecting OR&N and OSL rails was finally driven at Huntington on 25 November 1884. The OSL acquired control of the OR&N in 1887, and UP had its through route to the Pacific Ocean.

The old OSL and OR&N rails through the Blue Mountains and along the Columbia River continue to be an important part of UPís system today.

An eastbound Union Pacific freight near Cascade Locks. Jeff Moore photo.